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Archive of posts filed under the TODs category.

Density and Mass Tranist Efficiency: A West Denver Exercise

Since the opening of the West Corridor Rail line in my neighborhood, I have been somewhat underwhelmed with how well it seems to be performing in terms of ridership. There are probably several reasons for this, but one of them that certainly plays a role is a lack of residential density along the line.

I recently read Vishaan Chakrabarti‘s book “A Country of Cities” in which he suggests that mass transit rail service is inefficient (i.e. it doesn’t attract enough ridership to pay for the cost of operation) at residential densities less than 30 dwelling units per acre (du/acre). Since it’s sort of difficult to imagine exactly what exactly 30 du/acre looks like,  I thought I’d see how my neighborhood compared.

The West Colfax Neighborhood of Denver, shown outlined in orange in the map below, covers 540 acres. The neighborhood is served by four light rail stations and nearly 75% of the neighborhood is within one-half mile of a station as shown by the larger circles on the map (thanks to DRCOG’s new Denver Regional Equity Atlas from which I took the image). Click on the map for the full-size version.

Currently there are approximately 3,600 dwelling units in the neighborhood. That means that on average there are only 6.6 dwelling units per acre. Sadly this isn’t anywhere close to Vishaan’s suggested density and probably has something to do with why I generally see a lot of mostly empty trains.

Of course I’m not one to take one person’s word as the gospel truth and I seemed to recall my urban planning professors in college quoting numbers closer to 20 du/acre, so I set out to see what sort of numbers I could find with a bit of web research. Sadly, I didn’t find many hard and fast numbers; the numbers I did find varied greatly. On the low end, a study by UC Berkeley’s Center For Future Urban Transit (PDF) suggested that light rail could be efficient between 9 and 12 du/acre depending on the size and strength of the Downtown market it served. Similarly, the LEED ND standards award credit for projects that are within a walking radius of mass transit AND contain 12 du/acre or more, suggesting that this might be an important threshold. The few other numbers I found  ranged upwards from 20 to 40 du/acre. Apparently, there isn’t a clear answer, and I imagine it’s because usage depends on a multitude of other factors.

So how do all these numbers stack up in relation to West Colfax? How many more units do we need before we can cross these thresholds?

Currently I’m aware of about 150 new units that are under construction in the neighborhood. Additionally, the redevelopment of St. Anthony’s Hospital will add somewhere between 800 and 1,200 units of residential housing. Combined, this will add between 950 and 1,350 dwelling units to the neighborhood. At the high end of this estimate, adding 1,350 units to the existing 3,600 units (and dividing by 540 acres) gives us approximately 9.2 du/acre. This is barely enough to cross the 9 du/acre threshold suggested in the UC Berkeley study. To get to the seemingly better 12 du/acre threshold, we’d have to add yet another 1,530 units of housing on top of what’s currently planned. To get to Vishaan’s suggested 30 du/acre, we’d need to add over 12,600 dwelling units to the neighborhood!

Now, that’s a lot of units; just what might that look like?

Currently, Capitol Hill is probably the densest neighborhood in Denver. The neighborhood (bounded by Broadway, Colfax, Downing and 7th Ave), which covers about 430 acres, had nearly 11,300 dwelling units back in 2000 or approximately 26.3 du/acre. I apologize for the old data; it’s what I had handy. The area is probably closer to 12,000 units by now. In any case, one would have to add the entire housing stock of Capitol Hill (and then some) to the West Colfax neighborhood to reach Vishaan’s 30 du/acre recommendation. That is an enormous amount of housing. While it’s probably not very realistic given the current status of land ownership and zoning allowances in the area, I guarantee it would help to fill all those trains.


Gates Redevelopment: Planning for Innovation

“When people come together they become much more productive” – Geoffrey West

Currently, the Old Gates Rubber Plant is being demolished. Its long anticipated demolition will pave the way for years of development and, in the end, provide South Denver neighborhoods with new places to shop, eat, hang out, and better connect with new friends.

This piece will not cover the demolition timetable, the history of the site, or what might have been; this is a piece laying out an idea for something new, something interesting, something that will continue to make Denver a lure for future generations to move to Colorado.

Imagine a cutting edge research institute within ten minutes of downtown Denver. A site that has great access to open space, public transit, historic neighborhoods, and great parks. This site would have a bustling center with shops, apartments, great restaurants, and tons of energy. The heart of this community would be built around innovation, creativity, and the next generation of scientists, designers, and entrepreneurs. A place where new technologies are being built in cooperation with universities, businesses, nonprofits, and local municipalities.

What I am envisioning is something best defined by Bruce Katz: an Innovation District is a location that clusters leading-edge anchor institutions and cutting-edge innovative firms, connecting them with supporting and spin-off companies, business incubators, mixed-use housing, retail and 21st century urban amenities.

The concept of the Innovation District it is not drastically different than the original plan for the redevelopment, where it is different is the clustering of anchoring institutions, and supporting companies. I am imagining a series of facilities that satellite locations for: CU, CSU, and the School of Mines. If done correctly, the three schools could share their resources in the purchasing of equipment, better run challenges, and foster new businesses that utilize students from the different institutions.

In terms of supporting organizations, space could be provided for the many other schools around the city: Metro, Johnson & Wales, the Art Institute. This connecting of universities would allow non-technically oriented students to assist these future companies with help in marketing, accounting, advertising, planning, art, etc.

Outside of schools, this would provide an impetus for businesses to relocate to Denver, they would have a plethora of talent to pull from, researchers at close reach, transit, historic neighborhoods within walking distance, a newly enhanced S. Platte River, and all within 10 minutes of Downtown Denver.

http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2013/12/30-silicon-cities-katz#


The Business of Urbanism: Platt Park

With a strong downtown, the surrounding neighborhoods will thrive.  A recent example of this is the Platt Park neighborhood. It has been a strong neighborhood for a long time, but as of late there are many new businesses and buildings breaking ground from one end to the other.

On a recent walk through the neighborhood I saw a whole series of new businesses, either just opened or very close to opening. There is the recently relocated Sushi Den, Steam, 5 Green Boxes (in a new location), Izikaya Den, a new Tavern, and a brewery set to open next year.

Steam: A great new coffee house

   

Izakaya Den

In terms of new development, it is mostly located in the Northern end of the neighborhood both north and south of Mississippi.  Currently, one major set of buildings is under construction and ground has broken on what could be as many as three new developments.

Just about to break ground South of Mississippi

New construction next to Duffeyroll

Platt Park is presently one of hottest spots for retail, residential and new restaurants.  Talking with the neighbors they both enjoy this and are frustrated by the increased attention on the neighborhood. In the past the bars and restaurants were closed early, but this may change as more and more people choose to spend their evenings hanging out on Old South Pearl. One of the other issues coming to light is the lack of parking. Spots that have normally been taken by the neighbors are now being used for customers and this is causing issues for both residents and business owners.  An interesting idea that I think has merit is to bring the pedicabs from downtown and have them run through the neighborhood. It could really connect the neighborhood and lessen the burden on parking off of Pearl St.

Having visited Old South Pearl Street for years, I am excited to watch the development. It is great to see new buildings sprout up and see what new businesses pop up to support the growing community.


DIA Construction Progress

Thanks to our friends over at RTD, we have some amazing pictures of the massive construction project that is the South Terminal Redevelopment Program (STRP)! Construction looks to be progressing well as the elevator shafts have topped out and crews are working on what looks to be about the 4th floor of the new building.

Click here to check out some of the great pictures. The hotel should be complete sometime in 2015 with rail service starting in 2016!


Denver Union Station Renovation

Time for a DenverUrbanism exclusive look inside the historic Denver Union Station’s transformation from a sleepy train station into a luxury hotel. RTD has partnered with Union Station Alliance to transform one of Denver’s most historic structures into a 112-room hotel. Union Station Alliance is a partnership of Urban Neighborhoods (of Dana Crawford fame), Sage Hospitality (Oxford Hotel), and Milender White Construction, among many others. Thanks to RTD and JG Johnson Architects, we have an exclusive look.

If you’ve been down near Union Station anytime within the last few months, it’s hard to miss the scaffolding. There is a TON of work going on at 17th and Wynkoop Streets, but with the notable exception of the massive scaffolding collection, a lot of the work remains hidden inside. 

  

The canopy that surrounds much of the LoDo-front of Union Station will be maintained and restored, as evidenced in the pictures below. There will be patio space surrounding the building – nearly 20 feet worth. The canopy will have glass installed to allow some light through, but protect us from the elements. The nice part about the building being reinvented as a hotel is that crews will always be hand to make sure the canopy is clean and looking it’s best.

 

The main train hall room, formerly adorned with long wooden benches and steam heat, is completely filled with scaffolding. Crews are working to restore and refinish the walls to their former glory and will also be installing new light fixtures (replacing the absolutely abhorrent fluorescent lights that were there before) while maintaining the historic elements that graced the hall. The main hall will be a public space serving as a mixing bowl between hotel guests and outside visitors alike. Hotel check in will be on the second floor.

 

  

The hall was notoriously echo-filled and acoustically displeasing.  Crews are working to place noise dampeners along the ceiling to help reduce the echos that used to flow throughout the space. As you can see in the pictures below, the pink is a primer applied to the walls prior to the sound dampening panels, which are a grayish-tan color.

 

Just off the main train hall in what used to be the ticket office, crews are working to transform the space into what could be known as “The Terminal Room,” serving as a bar for hotel and downtown visitors alike. The Terminal Room was the name of a bar that was at Union Station during the railroad’s hay days – the name is a perfect shout-out to the building’s storied past.  The space is fairly skinny but runs the length of the train hall. It should make for a very cool bar and fit right in down in LoDo.

 

For the historic preservation advocates reading this, take comfort in the fact that it seems that Union Station Alliance and RTD have taken every effort to protect the historic elements within the building. From columns and staircase railings to arch detail and crown moldings, historic elements present before the renovation will still adorn the historic structure after completion.

 

  

 

A casualty of modern building and safety codes are staircases such as those inside Denver Union Station that lead to the upper floors. Don’t fret – they’re not being removed or modified in any significant way, but there are other staircases being constructed that meet fire safety standards. To construct a stairwell in an existing structure is difficult, as you could probably imagine. There’s a lot of demolition and reconstruction as they are constructed. 

  

Denver Union Station has very ornate historic staircases leading to the upper floors. Luckily, these staircases aren’t going anywhere. They have been identified as historic elements so they are being preserved. As you can see in the pictures, crews are making every effort to ensure they make it through the renovation with no accidental damage.

 

 

As I mentioned before, the hotel will have 112 rooms, 90 of which will be unique sizes (yes, 90 – that wasn’t a typo). Only 22 of the rooms will have a twin somewhere else in the building. Even the attic of Denver Union Station is being converted in hotel rooms. Not many have been up here before and you can see why in the pictures below. There are awkward roof lines and little ventilation. This will change as a few additional dormers are added to the building as the hotel rooms are constructed. The attic will host some of the larger rooms in the hotel as rooms will be longer to make sure that every room has a window, as required by code. Obviously, there’s a lot of work to do before that happens, but construction is well under way. The large, angled beams will be integrated into the hotel rooms, serving as a nod to the building’s historic past. 

 

 

 

For those who have been in the basement at Denver Union Station may remember a space that looks very different than it does today. What used to be the home of the model railroad exhibit is being transformed into conference space and home to other essential hotel functions. Additionally, Amtrak will have administrative space in the basement. A lot of work has gone into shoring up the foundations down here as well. Crews have been busy installing reinforcing concrete and large steel beams to help support the structure above. A lot of excavation work has occurred as well to help clear the space, even turning up the bones of what Union Station Alliance believe was a horse – and no, they have no idea how that got down there.

  

   

   

Retail is included as part of the Denver Union Station renovations. As announced by Larimer Associates in May, Denver favorites Snooze and The Kitchen will be opening locations at Denver Union Station in addition to a restaurant and market concept by Alex Seidel. These will be located on the ground floors of the north and south wings. Construction of the retail spaces has opened up the wing buildings into very large and inviting spaces. The posts lining the center of the room will remain as well.

 

 

Construction will continue through the fall as rooms are constructed and the Union Station Hotel will open in the summer of 2014!